This WEP entry is the Chapter 5 of my fanfiction novella Magic Senegalese. The story is set in Wen Spencer’s Elfhome universe. Please check out the other WEP challenge participants here. To remind you what has gone before in my story, you could read:
Naomi followed Dina’s instructions and found the superstore with no problem. After piling everything on Dina’s list plus a few items of her own into her shopping cart, she endured a long lineup to one of the cashiers. Clearly, Dina was right: everyone in Pittsburgh stockpiled their groceries the day after Shutdown. The line took over an hour to get through.
She stored the bags in the boot and in the truncated backseat of her Beetle and started to retrace her route to the yarn shop. After a while, she realized that she had taken a wrong turn somewhere and got lost. She needed a Pittsburgh street atlas, in addition to the local flora and fauna guide, she thought in irritation. She needed a whole damn encyclopedia to understand this nutty place.
She looked for somebody to ask directions, but strangely, nobody was around. The street felt abandoned, the houses shut up, their paint peeling. Assorted detritus and weeds chocked the front yards. A breeze blew yellow autumn leaves off the trees and across the cracked pavement.
Getting nervous, Naomi watched for any signs of danger. Strangle vines. Steel spinners. How did they even look? Could they get inside a car? How would she recognize any of those biohazards? She knew how a saurus looked from a TV show, but that was small comfort. It could probably smash her car.
A purely human cry for help from a house she was passing felt like a relief. She stopped. The house looked as abandoned as the rest, its windows boarded. Maybe she didn’t really hear that cry.
“Help!” a childish voice called again.
Damn, she did hear it, and nobody else was in sight, just like yesterday. She had to do something. Naomi checked to make sure the Mace spray was in her purse and climbed out of the car. Prompted by her growing paranoia, she grabbed a crowbar from the car boot. It wouldn’t be much help against a dinosaur, but it made her feel safer. Only then, cautiously, she tiptoed along a narrow gravel path to the porch.
Her head swiveled from left to right, searching for monsters. No creature jumped at her, but the realization hit: the abandonment was an illusion. Although the large window beside the front door was still boarded, and the boards seemed old and grey, the door sported a new padlock.
“Help!” the voice behind the door screamed once more. Frantic fists pounded. “Whoever you’re. Please! They’ll kill me.”
“Okay, wait,” Naomi said. “I’m here. The door is locked. Who is going to kill you?”
“He’s gone to buy food, but he’ll be back soon. Hurry.”
“Is there a back door?” Naomi tried to project a calm reassurance she was far from feeling.
The inside girl sniffled audibly. “It’s locked too,” she said.
“Perhaps I should call the police.”
“He’ll be back soon,” the girl said forlornly. “They won’t have time.”
“Okay.” Naomi studied the crowbar in her hand. “I’ll try to pry the boards off this window.”
She had never done anything like this before—she wasn’t a DIY person—but she persevered. The girl on the other side whimpered piteously. At last, one board came loose. Another. She could at last see the girl inside the house. Huge terrified eyes glimmered in the small face. Elven ears strained up over the short uneven haircut. Another elven child? A dizzying sense of deja vu swept over Naomi.
“One more board, and you could climb through,” she said soothingly. The board moaned, as she pushed the crowbar harder. Naomi didn’t hear the footsteps. Her only warning was a horrified “No!” from inside the house.
She whirled and dropped the crowbar at the sight of a man with a gun, the same one who had mugged Dina yesterday. He might’ve recognized her too, because he smiled maliciously as he mounted the steps.
Naomi’s eyes were glued to his gun, only a couple steps away from her. He said something and sniggered, but she didn’t listen. Feeling strangely calm, she lifted her left hand as if to ward off the bullets, while her right hand crept furtively into the purse hanging at her side. Blindly, she palmed the Mace, set her finger on the trigger, and whipped it out. Squeezing her eyes shut and holding her breath, she stretched her arm into his face and pushed the trigger.
The spray hissed, and the man howled. Something clattered to the porch deck, probably the gun. Naomi backed off and risked a peek. Her eyes and nose stung and watered, but not badly. She could see him. He got a full blast of Mace in the face and was clawing at his eyes, yelling incomprehensible words, probably dire curses, and spinning aimlessly. The girl inside the house screeched too, but Naomi’s unnatural calm persisted. She inched towards him, picked up her crowbar, swung, and brought the tines down on his head. Something crackled loudly. He stopped screaming and dropped. And lay still. Blood oozed from under his head, soaking into the old wood of the porch.
Naomi picked up his gun, put it into her purse, and started shaking. She couldn’t work on the boarded window anymore. Her palms were sweaty, and her arms seemed boneless. They wouldn’t hold the crowbar. It hit the deck with a muted thump. Maybe she didn’t need the crowbar, she thought numbly. Maybe he had the key to the padlock. Feeling detached, her fingers trembling, she searched his pockets and found a key chain. The third key she tried opened the door.
The girl shot out, straight into Naomi’s arms. “Is he dead?” She clutched at Naomi’s jacket.
“I don’t know. Let’s go.” Naomi tugged the girl off the porch. There was another car parked behind hers—his jeep. She avoided looking at the crumpled body on the porch. Her only wish was to escape this place as fast as she could. Holding hands, Naomi and the girl raced to the car.